An edited version of this Article was first published in Rapid Journal within the Philippines in 2007 under the Title of: The Importance of the Empty-Livehand of Arnis/Escrima.
The Students Basic Balintawak Training is: Cover All Over and Strike To The Neck/Head.
Students in Balintawak Arnis Escrima, (A/E), well, my Grouped Balintawak school, are initially, always taught to block all over with the stick (or the best arm), then the emptyhand will always clip/grab.
The students stick/best arm immediately counter-strikes hard, back to the neck/head of the attacker/instructor, in a downward motion of an almost forty five degree angle. The grab and hit to the head is an important part of Balintawak, much like the explosive/instinctive empty-hand fight in Rugby of a grab and hit to the head.
This clipping in A/E of the opponents stick/best hand with the empty-hand makes it harder for the instructor/attacker to build up momentum with their weapon or best hand.
Momentum is something you do not want your enemy to build in a real fight. Sure, there is the Pak Gung of Balintawak (A harder and faster attack or feint and redirection back to the students head) but the student has, through proper training, learnt to automatically react (block/cover) and counter back to the head/neck with the stick/best hand and has nullified the instructors spinning Pak Gung stick redirection to the head.
The student should always employ instantaneous response of a hit back to the head/neck. The emptyhand of the student/defender in Pak Gung by not being able to grab/clip the faster attack, will (having been trained to), move their emptyhand back to guard their own head, (hopefully not guarding the chest, like some schools of Arnis).
Then on the next strike by the instructor, the student must try even harder to grab/clip the weapon or weapon arm.
STOP the opponents momentum or you are dead.
Emptyhand Duties of the Instructor and Stick Directions/Angles
The instructors empty-hand in Grouped Balintawak has several duties in basic training. Before the Pak Gung moves (the harder and faster instructor moves), and also after them, the instructors emptyhand’s most common duty in teaching the student, is as a focus mitt for the students return strike during the simple training routines.
The stick in a Pak Gung move, acts as a punching bag target for the student but initially is also a redirect strike to the students head for the instructor, if the student does not instantaneously respond and clip. The students counter strike, being properly executed to the attackers head, is now a block, with correct timing.
Some Balintawak schools are unfortunately, now not teaching, do not know or are ignoring this clipping/grabbing and are also ignoring a hard hit back to the opponents neck/head (in a forty five degree, downward angle). They prefer the student hitting back to the instructors stick on a flat plane, (or to wherever the instructors stick may be) or on a flat plane almost over the instructors head, allowing the instructor to more easily defend both with their stick and emptyhand, which allows a momentum build up.
They are joining the ranks of what they see as the more successful, commercial styles and schools teaching stickfighting only and the emptyhand serving very little importance. This not clipping/grabbing by some schools, enables them to be able to move flashily from one set of moves, back to the same set of moves, or to another series of stick buzzing manoeuvres.
The Students Counter Strike Angle
The direction of the return counter on an angle, instead of a flat plane also has greater significance. Medical research shows, that a forty five degree downward (or upward) angled strike with a fist or weapon to a persons head, results in more trauma and damage to the brain.
After a forty five degree downward or upward angled impact, the force will jerk the brain within the skull, causing it to move more easily and strike the skull walls, (causing concussion), as the brain stem is better designed to cushion straight forward/backward and straight sideways left/right movements, instead of forty five angled motions.
One person commented that I also say to the “neck OR head”. I tend to train much like a boxing coach that aims a students punches to the throat, for if the opponent bobs down, the strike will hit them in the centre of the head. If the opponent bobs excessively, one simply “follows” the opponent downward with their hand, striking them anywhere near the head, as they have nowhere to go.
Also, if their opponent doesn’t bob down or move their head at all when one counter strikes, and one were to translate their stick work to say a knife or a sword, one is training a student to cover and then always cut an opponents throat on every counter strike. Remember if they are trying to hit/strike/cut and/or kill you with a weapon, one should be fearful for their life and counter the same.
Abanico: The Stick Variation
Some, while teaching stickfighting only, are also simply using wrist motions to make their strikes and routines faster in more of an Abanico type of strike. Abanico, translates to fan or fanning strike, a strike using more of the wrist to generate power to the end of the stick/weapon.
With a weapon/stick, it can only take a small Abanico strike to open up the opponents face with a strike. While this is good if you are armed, (and the opponent does not know the defences against the Abanico strikes) take the stick away and try to practice Abanico strikes with the fist as the striking point. It simply does not work.
Abanico’s are simply a stick variation on striking in A/E. With the real teaching of A/E (a style that can be translated back to barehands) you must power up for the strike by pulling the weapon hand back to the body plane.
People often say, “I don’t want to learn A/E, as where do you find a weapon in an emergency. Carrying weapons (in most countries) is against the law”.
Translate your training to barehanded and you will see if your school is teaching you stickfighting only, or a complete Martial Art that can be used with or without tools.
Balintawak was never meant to be pretty but a realistic attempt to teach real fighting, both with a weapon/stick and barehanded.
Part 3 coming up….